How to Boost Performance Through Thoughtful Workplace Design

Does workplace design boost performance, or is it another passing trend for companies who are grasping at straws in their ongoing quest to be “cool”, innovative or enticing in their efforts for attracting top talent?

First, let me be clear: I’m not an expert in the design of physical workspaces. But, having had the privilege to consult for many different organizations over the years, I have seen firsthand the impact that physical work environment can have on attitude and behavior.

This experience has given me a deep appreciation of the ways office design can reinforce the underlying beliefs, assumptions and values that are held to be true in organizations. As an organizational psychologist who specializes in organizational culture, I understand that physical work environment can play a critical role in reinforcing what is and isn’t valued in the company- a physical manifestation of what people hold to be true about how work should get done.

For example, as a medical company, you should be utilising a company such as iMedical to effectively design and build your space. Their floor planning service is tailor made for medical companies – and this can improve employee retention, happiness and productivity.

Similar to other physical manifestations of culture, like the way people dress or the formality of their interactions, physical environment can serve to clearly reinforce what “successful” or “desired” behavior looks like. But, it takes more than exposed brick or a new foosball table to make it happen in a sustainable way.

How Workplace Design Can Help (Or Hinder) Performance

There are two trends I see in organizations trying to change their culture (and behavior) by changing their workspace: The group that thinks that offering craft beer in the breakroom will make people behave in more innovative ways, and those organizations that use changes in the physical workspace as one lever in an intentional change effort that supports and reinforces changes in all other areas of the business.

Organizations in the former category attempt to find a silver bullet through superficial changes in the hopes that it will spur new, desired behaviors. Unfortunately, they usually find their efforts falling short as the other aspects of their culture pull people to maintain the status quo.

Conversely, companies that take a more multifaceted approach to evolving behaviors by shaping and aligning the physical environment in addition to their existing systems and processes seem better able to affect sustainable behavior change.

So, what makes the difference?

The norms of behavior that develop in an organization do so over time.  They are continually reinforced at every turn from the way people are compensated to the way meetings occur and everything in between. To assume that changing one thing (like the physical environment) is enough to sway people’s behavior in the midst of so many other aspects of culture influencing their behaviors seems aspirational at best. Even by keeping the work-space at a nice working temperature during the winter months would keep motivation up an would increase productivity. If you operating within a large premises you should look at Go Home heating HVAC repair to make sure your A/C has been serviced to ensure it last throughout the winter months.

Today’s leaders must be thoughtful about the way in which their office design supports the culture they want to create, and the behaviors they want to reinforce.

My smart colleague, Maya Razon, an organizational development consultant in the Bay Area, has been researching thought leaders in the space of physical office design. Recently, I was able to catch up with her to discuss some of her key learnings about how organizations can truly drive performance through thoughtful workplace design.  Here’s what she had to say-

3 Ways to Drive Performance Through Workplace Design

1. Bring Nature Indoors. Have you heard of the biophilia hypothesis? It literally means “love of life or living systems.” It’s the idea that there is an intrinsic bond between humans and other living things, like plants.

The theory was popularized in 1984, but recent research has found a more scientific link between productivity and the presence of nature. In fact, researchers from the Rocky Mountain Institute and Carnegie Mellon University have reported significant improvements in productivity as a result of green building features, including day lighting and views to the outdoors.

You can easily incorporate this theory into the workplace by simply adding plants and greenery around your offices. Environmental psychologist Sally Augustin, PhD suggests providing views of nature if at all possible. rolling hills and gently flowing water are best. Too much vegetation (views that feel jungle-like or water rapids) can have the opposite effect of adding stress vs. decreasing it.

2. Give Your Employees Control. Humans desire control over their environment, so consider giving your employees more control over how their individual workplace looks and feels. Even little things, like getting to pick their computer desk or having a desk lamp, which an employee can turn on and off, or ways to change the office temperature with fans or heaters can make a big difference.

Dr. Stefano Schiavon, Assistant Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley says, “Managers should provide the opportunity for control. If we allow employees to control their time and tasks, they are more productive. And if we do the same for their thermal conditions with openable windows, personal temperature control, access to outside, and energy efficient personal heaters and fans, they will be happier.”

3. Know who you are and what you are trying to accomplish. The approach to office space design today is varied, from assigned cubicles, flexing work spaces and the open-office trend. If you study successful workplace design in companies like Google or Pixar, you’ll find a variety of fresh approaches within their walls, all of them supporting the values and behaviors they want to encourage.

Franklin Becker, Professor Emeritus of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University cautions about how easy it is to get caught up in rhetoric about workspaces. Before jumping in to make changes to your office environment it’s helpful to ask “What is my organization and culture about? What really counts if we have to make choices about space and where can we make choices that have the best ROI?”

Design With Purpose

Look, I’m a fan of foosball and ping-pong as much as the next guy. But if I’m going to put a table in our office I want to know that my company and our people are going to get something meaningful out of it.

As leaders in our organizations, we have a responsibility to think more critically and holistically about the design decisions we make. We must be aware of how these external motivators are meant to influence our organizational culture and values – or if they do at all.


This article originally appeared on Forbes